Game one of the Abbotsford Canucks first round series against the Bakersfield Condors faces off tonight (Tuesday) in Bakersfield. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Game one of the Abbotsford Canucks first round series against the Bakersfield Condors faces off tonight (Tuesday) in Bakersfield. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Abbotsford Canucks vs. Bakersfield Condors first round series preview

Key players, important stats and predictions from local observers ahead of tonightโ€™s game

The Abbotsford Canucks first foray into the American Hockey League playoffs begins tonight (Tuesday) with a best-of-three series against the Bakersfield Condors inside the Mechanics Bank Arena starting at 7 p.m.

Game one goes tonight, game two is set for tomorrow (Wednesday) and game three (if necessary) is scheduled for May 9.

All games occur in Bakersfield because the Condors earned the fourth seed and bumped the Canucks to fifth on the final day of the AHL regular season.

SEASON SERIES:

Abbotsford collected nine points (4-3-1) while Bakersfield recorded eight points (4-4) during the team’s eight meetings this season.

Oct. 16: Bakersfield – 5 Abbotsford – 3

Jan. 6: Bakersfield – 6 Abbotsford – 2

Jan. 7: Bakersfield – 4 Abbotsford – 3 OT

Jan. 9: Bakersfield – 4 Abbotsford – 0

Feb. 16: Abbotsford – 5 Bakersfield – 2

March 19: Abbotsford – 3 Bakersfield – 1

April 16: Abbotsford – 3 Bakersfield – 1

April 26: Abbotsford – 4 Bakersfield – 2

KEY PLAYERS:

The Canucks received a glut of talent from the NHL club in Vancouver after they failed to qualify for the playoffs. Goalies Spencer Martin and Artrus Silovs, the team’s most valuable player Sheldon Dries and forwards Nic Petan and Will Lockwood all have been re-assigned to Abbotsford.

Making his AHL debut will be Vancouver first-round pick Vasily Podkolzin. He recorded 14 goals and 12 assists in 79 games with Vancouver in his rookie campaign. Podkolzin was chosen in the first round, 10th overall by Vancouver in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Abbotsford will also be heavily relying on leading point producer Sheldon Rempal (69 points), high-scoring rookie defenceman Jack Rathbone and key forwards Nic Petan, John Stevens and Phil Di Giuseppe.

Bakersfield’s offensive attack is led by forwards Seth Griffith (80 points) and Cooper Marody (55 points). The Condors also had 21-goal seasons out of forwards Adam Cracknell and James Hamblin.

Defensively they will be without Philip Broberg, who was called up to Edmonton for the NHL playoffs. Yanni Kaldis and Vincent Desharnais will log significant time on the back end for the team. Stuart Skinner is expected to be the Condors starting goalie. Skinner posted a record of 22-7-5 and a .920 save percentage for Bakersfield.

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SPECIAL TEAMS:

Abbotsford’s power play was lethal, especially in the second half of the regular season and they finished at a 23 per cent clip, good for fourth in the AHL. The addition of Podkolzin will give Canucks head coach Trent Cull another weapon in his arsenal.

Bakersfield’s power play finished at 18.7 per cent, good for 21st in the league. The Condors had the least effective power play in the Pacific Division.

The Condors did have an excellent penalty kill, finishing at 81.7 per cent for the season and ranking 11th in the AHL. Abbotsford finished at 80.3 per cent and ranked 19th in the league.

SERIES PREDICTIONS:

Brandon Astle, Abbotsford Canucks play-by-play:

Anything can happen in a short series like this and it may very well come down to which team has more game-breakers, which the Canucks have more of on their roster right now.

Despite what happened in Manitoba last week, let’s not forget that this team went on a nine-game winning streak without the likes of Sheldon Dries, Nic Petan, Will Lockwood, and Vasiliy Podkolzin. Trent Cull now has the luxury of inserting those four talents into the top six that already have Sheldon Rempal, John Stevens, and Phil Di Giuseppe (Justin Bailey as well, but his injury status is unknown). Goaltending is always a huge factor in the playoffs and the Canucks are also adding Spencer Martin to the crease, who has been one of the best puck stoppers in the AHL this season. With all of that said, the Condors are a good team with a solid goaltender in Stuart Skinner who can steal a game or two.

Since the two teams in the regular season finished tied in points, win percentage, and split the eight-game season series, I can see this series going the distance with the Canucks moving onto the next round thanks to their top-end talent and overall depth.

Chris Faber, CanucksArmy senior writer and host of the Canucks Conversation podcast:

The Abbotsford Canucks were one of the AHL’s best teams in 2022 and they are looming even better with the additions from the NHL.

All eyes of Canucks fans will be on Vasily Podkolzin, who could very easily be the best player in this series. Goaltender Spencer Martin is back with the Canucks and the combination of him and the Canucks’ deep defence core makes them my favourite in the three-game series.

The addition of Sheldon Dries and Nic Petan adds even more offence to their top-six. I’m going with Abbotsford to win in two games.

Michael Liu, Abbotsford Canucks writer for Field Pass Hockey:

The Canucks and Condors are as close as their records suggest and fans should be in for a very competitive series from start to finish.

Abbotsford goes in having won the last four meetings between the teams, but expect plenty of extracurriculars and scrappy play. Key in on Seth Griffith and Cooper Marody up front for Bakersfield, these two forwards can really score. The Canucks will also have to solve a very tough netminder in Stuart Skinner.

Look for big performances from the Sheldons, as well as solid defensive contributions throughout the d-corps. The subtraction of Broberg and addition of Podkolzin might prove to be the difference-maker in the series. Abbotsford in three.

Ben Lypka, Abbotsford News reporter:

Abbotsford’s offensive depth will eventually overwhelm the Condors, but I think it will take a little bit of time for the Canucks to adjust to all the new faces. Spencer Martin will provide stability in goal and give Abbotsford the chance to win each game but I think Bakersfield does take one game at home (home ice is huge in the AHL) and the Canucks win the series 2-1.

Special teams will also play a huge factor and it really depends on how tight the game is called. A more loosely officiated series favours Bakersfield because of their size, but if Abbotsford gets too many opportunities with the man advantage it could get ugly for the Condors.

Cody Severtson, CanucksArmy writer and podcast co-host for The CreaseCast:

Up until this morning, I was convinced this would be a pretty winnable series for Abbotsford. Then I heard an ad on Sportsnet650 for playoff home games “next week at the Abbotsford Centre.”

To play an ad like that with such confidence that they’ll make it past Bakersfield—especially after failing to secure a single point out of Manitoba—has me convinced that the team will be jinxed into losing a three-game series. Not swept, they’ll manage to eke one.

For more coverage from the series, visit the contributors websites at canucksarmy.com, fieldpasshockey.com and abbynews.com.

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